ON COURSE

Do mil­len­ni­als want to be­come pi­lots?

Flying - - Contents - By Stephen Pope

The­like this: con­ven­tion­alThey would wis­dom rather about­sit inside mil­len­ni­al­sand play goes Xbox some­thin­gall day than go to the air­port and learn to fly air­planes. Mind you, no­body ever presents any ev­i­dence to show this is in fact true, but in our gut we all kind of un­der­stand there’s at least a ring of truth to it. But don’t blame young peo­ple. A great many of them would be thrilled to earn a pri­vate pi­lot’s li­cense. It’s just that gen­eral avi­a­tion isn’t struc­tured to pro­vide them with the kind of train­ing ex­pe­ri­ence they ex­pect or de­sire.

What do mil­len­ni­als want from avi­a­tion? It’s pretty sim­ple, re­ally: New, or nearly new, tech­no­log­i­cally so­phis­ti­cated air­planes that they can ac­tu­ally af­ford to fly. What do they get in­stead? Locked air­port gates, flight schools that some­times seem as though they don’t want cus­tomers and air­planes that look old and tired be­cause, well, they are. A point to keep in mind about mil­len­ni­als is that they were born into the safest and most tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced world mankind has ever known. Their tol­er­ance for risk is low and their de­sire for in­no­va­tion high. They view driver-as­sist fea­tures like trac­tion con­trol and lane­keep­ing tech­nol­ogy in ve­hi­cles as run of the mill, and would feel to­tally at ease slid­ing into the “driver’s” seat of a driver­less car. Many of them al­ready as­sume air­planes fly them­selves (which, of course, they can).

Un­less a young per­son was born into an avi­a­tion fam­ily and had the chance to ex­pe­ri­ence what it’s like to hop into an old Sky­lane or Bonanza and fly around the coun­try, per­sonal avi­a­tion must seem strangely for­eign to the av­er­age mil­len­nial.air­planes­their fi­nan­cial laugh­ablyThe re­al­i­ties. learn­ing an­ti­quat­ed­curveNo won­der, ap­pearsand the when ridicu­lous­ly­costs the out latestof line high, shiny with the new iphone ar­rives every year like clock­work (free with a two-year con­tract) but we’re still fly­ing “new” light air­planes that were orig­i­nally type cer­ti­fied in the 1950s and ’60s.

What gen­eral avi­a­tion needs is a good old-fash­ioned par­a­digm shift. Light-sport avi­a­tion was sup­posed to rep­re­sent that idea, and in some ways it has. But to at­tract a fu­ture gen­er­a­tion of avi­a­tors to our ac­tiv­ity, we need to start think­ing like fu­ture avi­a­tors. Per­haps the Part 23 re­write of light-air­craft cer­ti­fi­ca­tion rules will in­deed usher in fleets of lower-cost elec­tric-pow­ered train­ing air­craft, just the sort of dis­rup­tive tech­nol­ogy that can ig­nite an in­ter­est in younger peo­ple who grew up glued to their smart­phones. Then again, maybe it won’t.

The three main el­e­ments nec­es­sary to sus­tain light gen­eral avi­a­tion’s fu­ture in­clude con­tin­ued tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ment, bet­ter af­ford­abil­ity and im­proved ac­cess. Thanks to new tech­nol­ogy and de­cent train­ing, we’re do­ing a good job of meet­ing our pri­mary goal of rewrit­ing the safety story. But if we main­tain the sta­tus quo, we can only ex­pect the num­ber of stu­dent-pi­lot starts to con­tinue to di­min­ish. When the av­er­age young per­son has the sense that they’ll be wel­comed at the lo­cal air­port, where they can learn to fly in an ad­vanced air­plane for a rea­son­able cost, then we may again start to see pri­vate pi­lot ranks be­gin to swell.

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